On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FN-20-87-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 13, 2010
Before Judges Parrillo and Espinosa.
Appellant, M.S., appeals from a final Fact Finding Order of the Family Part, which held that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 (c)(4)(b), she had abused and neglected her children by using excessive corporal punishment. We affirm.
The proofs adduced at the fact-finding hearing are as follows. M.S. is the mother of two daughters, B.R., born January 15, 1991, and G.B., born September 10, 1992, and a son, Ro.S., born August 5, 1998. R.S., who is married to M.S., is the biological father of Ro.S. and stepfather of B.R. and G.B. C.B. is the biological father of B.R. and G.B.*fn1 M.S. and R.S. have been married since 1995. Her job as a home health aide in Brooklyn requires that she leave home at 6:00 a.m. and not return until after 11:00 p.m.
The Division of Youth & Family Services (DYFS) first became involved with this family on June 19, 2007, when it received a referral from school personnel that B.R. had come to school and reported that her stepfather, R.S., "keeps trying to mess with her," and had sexual intercourse with her sister, G.B. DYFS investigated the allegations, which no one corroborated, and concluded that they were unfounded.
During the course of its investigation, however, DYFS uncovered evidence of physical altercations between M.S. and her daughters. B.R. told DYFS investigator, Yvette Gardner, that M.S. hits her, grabs her hair, and has, on one occasion, put a shoe in her mouth. She also reported that M.S. is often angry and hits her and G.B. when they do not clean the house or complete their chores. B.R. related an incident that occurred the previous weekend during a family trip to New York in which M.S. yelled at B.R. for not packing enough clothes for Ro.S. A verbal argument became physical when B.R. grabbed M.S. by the neck and the two then began fighting until R.S. separated them.
G.B. confirmed the New York incident. While interviewing G.B., Gardner questioned the child about a scratch near her right eye. Although at first reluctant to respond, G.B. eventually informed Gardner that M.S. hit her after accusing her of stealing M.S.'s earnings. G.B. also reported that M.S. has an anger problem, makes her daughters do all the household chores, and yells at and hits them when the chores are not done.
Ro.S. likewise confirmed that M.S. frequently yells at his sisters for not doing their chores and that she slaps them in the face when she gets angry. Ro.S. also confirmed the New York incident, relating that B.R. and M.S. were fighting after B.R. grabbed at M.S.'s neck and that R.S. broke up the fight.
When confronted with these accusations, M.S. admitted hitting B.R. and G.B., but explained that the girls also hit her. She too confirmed the New York incident, as well as one that occurred the previous day when she grabbed G.B. by the arm and slapped G.B.'s face after she found her earrings in her daughter's room. Although she denied having an anger problem, M.S. admitted she gets upset if the house is not clean when she returns home from work around midnight.
R.S. also admitted grabbing the children and smacking them in the face to discipline them, but stated that he and M.S. were attempting to learn alternative discipline methods. According to R.S., M.S. disciplines with an "old fist," often yelling at her daughters when their chores are not done.
Because of the parents' disciplinary techniques and the ongoing conflict between M.S. and her daughters, DYFS kept the family's file open for services and supervision. On June 20, 2007, M.S. and R.S. signed a Case Plan In-Home Assessment in which they agreed to refrain from using corporal ...